Shule Aroon
(self-produced, 2002)

The cover of this CD, showing the two female members of HeartSounds, is as interesting and varied in tone, light and shadows as the music played on it. Mary Kay Mann does vocals and plays the Irish flute, silver flute, tin whistle and piano. Janet Jackson Witman plays Celtic harp and adds harmony vocals on "Wild Mountain Thyme." In the picture, one holds a flute to her lips and the other is seated at a harp. With the sun shining behind them, they are in the shadow of a stone arch that leads to seaside cliffs.

This led me to expect a light, romantic style and though I found those on this CD, I also found lots of full-bodied tunes of Irish and Scottish tradition. For some tracks, the duo is joined by some special guests. Mark Hamer plays dumbek, Stephen DiJoseph plays keyboard and John Lionarons contributes bodhran.

I really enjoyed the bodhran on the 10th cut, a series of three traditional Irish tunes called the "Creel of Turf," "Dublin Street" and "Fig for a Kiss." Another favorite of mine is Mann's composition "Lost Lovers' Waltz," where flute and harp do a delicate dance together. They played "Sir Festus Burke" and though the liner notes call it "a lively tune," I wouldn't say they quite reached "lively" heights.

The CD includes instrumental tracks and vocals. HeartSounds sings "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose," "Wild Mountain Thyme," "Shule Aroon" and "Ned of the Hill" with sweet, soulful longing. I couldn't make up my mind about "Wild Mountain Thyme." Because it's one of my favorites I often stop whatever I'm doing just to hear it. I tried repeatedly to appreciate this rendition but it was too slow.

Overall, there is a purity to the tone of this CD, and a clear and Celtic sound that leans a bit toward classical. The music is rooted in the tradition but is a more delicate version than pub and square dance styles. I don't think I've ever heard "Star of the County Down" played as a waltz before.

The musicianship is great, the flute and harp make great partners, and HeartSounds plays with an intensity that commands your attention as you wait for note to follow note. This low-key energy, nevertheless, is not what I look for on a whole CD of Celtic music. This is a rich, layered pastry in contrast to my grandmother's apple pie, both well-constructed mind you. It's a matter of what you're looking for at the moment.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 1 March 2003